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Saturday, 24 May 2008

A bittersweet Pedra Branca victory for Singapore

Pedra Branca
After reading the ICJ's ruling on the Pedra Branca case, I realised just how close Singapore came to losing and how busy the government propaganda machine had been working through our local media.

Because Pedra Branca should belong to Malaysia.

No, it's not that I'm unpatriotic. When I had first learned about the ruling through a Twitter tweet, no less. I was so elated patriotically that I had to tweet all about Singapore's sovereignty over Pedra Branca too.

I've since read the International Court of Justice's 81-page ruling on the Pedra Branca case (313KB PDF) (though I admittedly jumped to the respective Conclusion sections about 20 pages into it), and it's one heckuva roller-coaster ride. The first part basically confirmed that Pedra Branca and its surrounding islets had always been part of the Johor Sultanate and was never terra nullius. (And for history buffs, the Court ruled that, though the Sultanate was split in two, there was an agreement whereby their territories were reunited.)

Here's the damning Section 5.3.5:
117. In the light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that Malaysia has established to the satisfaction of the Court that as of the time when the British started their preparations for the construction of the lighthouse on Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh in 1844, this island was under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Johor. (emphasis is mine)
That's why Malaysia won Middle Rocks. The Court had ruled that it was part of the group of islands that included Pedra Branca, and this group had always belonged to Johor (and later, Malaysia).

Singapore won Pedra Branca primarily because of Malaysia's actions (or inaction, as it were), i.e.
  1. In 1953, Johor's Acting State Secretary confirmed point blank that Pedra Branca did not belong to the state.
  2. Malaysia never contested Singapore's management of the lighthouse and other ongoing construction activities.
The Court's ruling, in more layman's terms, is this:
Let's say your neighbour's potted plant sits in your garden. However, he doesn't take care of it and it would have shriveled and died eventually. But you chose to water it, add some fertiliser, spray insect repellent, etc. And when a passer-by asked your neighbour if the plant was his, he said "No!" As a result, you would now be the owner of that potted plant.

And that's how Singapore got Pedra Branca. And that's why I say that Singapore won by a hair. If Malaysia had made more noise over the intervening years, it appears that the Court would have sided with it.

As for South Ledge, it should be clarified that the Court did not explicitly state who owns it. Instead, given its judgment over Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks, it left it to Singapore and Malaysia to work out the territorial boundaries and see which side South Ledge falls on.

Singapore no doubt would want South Ledge. Why? Simple: territory. More specifically, according to the Law of the Sea, a country owns the waters up to 200 nautical miles from its baseline as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). If Singapore snags South Ledge, then that means our baseline is extended all the way to South Ledge, and then our EEZ is 200 miles out. Who knows what lurks in the waters there? Medicine? Food? Oil??? (The EEZ also explains why Singapore wanted Middle Rocks too.)

One fight is over, won with a bloodied nose. Another fight is looming over South Ledge. That should be another battle to behold.


Saturday, 10 May 2008

Chan Mun Chiong should be charged under Section 377A

People Like Us released a statement, "Chan Mun Chiong should not have been charged under Section 377A", arguing that the government was being hypocritical by prosecuting Chan under this controversial law. I humbly beg to differ.

As stated by PLU,

The Prime Minister, last October 23rd, said in Parliament that the authorities would not "proactively enforce Section 377A."
However, I disagree with this assumption:
In effect, he was assuring gay citizens that they could consider Section 377A as no threat and not fear discriminatory treatment under the law.
My reading of PM Lee's statement is that the police won't go around knocking down doors and catching homosexuals in acts of sexual intimacy. In other words, I believe that the government will generally respect the sexual privacy of individuals, both homosexual and heterosexual. The exceptions are:
  1. if someone files a complaint, which applies to heterosexuals too, e.g. if a Peeping Tom reports a lewd act (yeah, try wrapping your head around that), and
  2. if someone catches a homosexual in the act.
In other words, PM Lee's statement should be interpreted as "keep it in the bedroom, but you're damned if caught".

Besides, if PLU is correct in its assumption, then that begs the question: Why is the law still in the legal books???

Therefore, I think Chan can be prosecuted under Penal Code 377A lawfully and rightfully. This would be in addition to his other pending charges for engaging in oral sex with his 16-year-old male victim, when he knew that he was HIV-positive.

Aside: I also believe that the above logic applies to the Sedition Act, i.e. the police won't actively monitor your speech or actions for seditious messages, but if someone complains with valid reason, then it's "hello, prison time!"